The Mandolin Player

Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya

“Ajay, don’t you go there, ever”, Bub, my grandfather, short for Babuji had warned me repeatedly, raising an admonitory finger and saying, “I pride myself on being a rationalist, but, believe me, there are certain things that belie explanation.  Stay away from the pine forest, and that ancient house there, or else ….” My red-cheeked granny had nodded assent, handing both of us mugs of kehwa and bagels.
But the curiosity bug had bitten me good and proper and it would not allow me to rest, unless I had investigated what was so eerie about it.   So ,one cold Sunday, immediately after a heavy breakfast of eggs and the local Kashmiri bread, I , a ten year old, headed towards the pine forest , which, I thought ,had a fairy tale ring  about it, but the others thought differently .
I did not know who a rationalist was, or what a rationalist did for a living, but the threat in Bub’s words, “stay away from the pine forest, or else”, simply did not allow me to steer clear of the forest. 
Every year, I was in Srinagar during the summer and winter breaks, where my grandparents had a huge, rambling house, which always seemed to be full of relatives and friends. That year also I was there during my winter vacation, my parents had some work in Delhi and they had not accompanied me. 

Piercing through the thick forest of pines, I reached the ancient building which was built with a combination of terracotta bricks and deodar wooden logs. I stood awestruck, almost mesmerized that the building still shone with glimpses of its lost grandeur, pulsating and throbbing with hidden secrets. 

As I stood watching it, I felt as if sharp eyes were boring holes in my back. I immediately whirled back to find someone silhouetted under a pine tree. It was a young man, clad in the dirtiest pheran ever seen on any man.  He had an absolutely bedraggled mandolin in his hands, his eyes were blood -shot, but he had the gentlest smile ever seen on a human’s face.
Will you listen to my song?” He asked, walking towards me, as if in a trance. 
Horror – struck, I ran in confusion, while yells and screams followed me.
“I am not going to gobble you, just listen to my song….. Just listen to my song.”
Now, I ran more frantically, as his yells teetered into sobs, “no one listens to my songs. No one ….. No one…….”

I tried to sneak into the house surreptitiously, but to my utter relief, I found that no one had noticed my absence. They all probably thought that I was out playing Sunday cricket with the neighborhood kids.  Bub was in the garden talking to some neighbours, he smiled in my direction and continued talking to them.
“You know, a shepherd was grazing his sheep in the forest, and that figure again chased him…..sobbing and weeping ….” Some words fell into my ears.
“Oh, all a figment of the imagination!” I heard Bub talking in a dismissive tone as I headed towards my room. 

Now so many years later, I had returned to the same house in the wilderness, now, a well-known writer, with three best-selling novels in my literary kitty. My bub had long left this world, so had granny, and I had come to Srinagar, merely to revisit my memories of that pine forest and the mysterious house inside. I had always found the lure of the dark, mysterious and mesmerizing forest, irresistible. The house was still deserted, the windows and doors all open. I walked into the house, closed the door and sat near the window of the front room on a rickety chair, smiling to myself, recalling my juvenile fears and apprehensions that day, so many years back.  But the figure of that mandolin player came flashing before my eyes, making me think and think. 

The night was thick with the scent of wild flowers and pine trees rustling outside, a couple of owls hooted, and the surroundings resounded with the ear-piercingly shrill lyrical zeal  of the exuberant cicadas .Through the window , I could see glow worms playing their nocturnal game of hide and seek in the sprawling brambles . Was it my imagination, or did I really hear footsteps on the gravel outside?
Then a knock. Clear. Unmistakable.  Rising above the sloughing of trees.
‘Please listen to my song …..Please …”. And then a discordant tune of muffled humming, as though a hive of absolutely mournful bees had been disturbed.
This time, you will listen to my song, won’t you? Ple…” 
I sat absolutely motionless for some time, then I heard receding footsteps, and heart- wrenching sobs pierced the night, mingling with the flapping of bats’ wings and hooting of owls.
After a couple of hours, I ventured enough courage to leave the house. The dawn had started creeping slowly and no sooner did I open the door, than I stopped short. Right outside the door, lay an old and bedraggled mandolin, shining with a faux brilliance in the rays of the early morning sun. Had the mandolin player left his unsung, unappreciated, unheard songs and mandolin to me?
I felt a lump in my throat as I picked up the mandolin and a mournful song erupted on my lips.  

Later, I heard stories that there was this extremely talented singer, who had gone to Bombay to try his luck, and had met nothing but failure there. On coming back to Srinagar, he had slowly lost the zeal to live, and had committed suicide. 
My grandfather was a rationalist, so was I, but what was it that I had twice encountered in the pine forest?  His lost soul, yearning to sing those songs dead and gone with him?

Maybe I would someday write a book about it. 


  1. Read the story with bated breath. Yes, there is a domain that is beyond the rational. The narrative moves smoothly and engagingly. An excellent story. Congrats, Santosh Bakaya.

  2. beautiful story, the setting is lovely, the pine forest, the mandolin player who sings from his heart. Ah! Had I been there! kudos dear storyteller

  3. Thanks so much . Happy that you liked it m

  4. The beauty of nostalgia lingers across the story,beautiful.


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